At the end of the film Bottle Shock (2008) about the Judgement of Paris in 1976, a character is heard to say: “We’ve shattered the myth… of the invincibility of French wines. And not only in California. (…) We drink wine… well, from South America, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, India and China.”
Such a view, mainly constructed in hindsight, is based on the idea that a New World of wines has become established in opposition to an Old World. Led by France, the latter includes several peripheral European countries, such as Spain and Italy. Countries which are considered as producing fine wines, but in a rustic fashion, without great knowledge of vinification processes, and in a rather conservative way. The complete opposite of California of course…
Nothing could be less obvious. Oenology owes much, for example, to the work of Bordeaux native Émile Peynaud (1912-2004) who was working on the chemical processes of vinification back in the 1950s. His work has had major repercussions throughout the world, clearly demonstrating that the separation between an Old and a New World is far from being a reality. There is no clear boundary separating them; on the contrary, they are bound by close links. The proof of this is that there are many companies which today have a presence in all four corners of the world. Many wine professionals move from one to the other over the course of their career… or even from one season to the next! The flying winemakers, the first profession in the world to work on several continents from one season to another, making wine sometimes in the northern hemisphere, sometimes in the southern hemisphere.
It is true, however, that many innovations have come from this group of new producers of high-quality wines, led by the United States. An example? The practice of naming wines by grape variety and not by region, which is becoming increasingly widespread.
Raphael Schirmer, Lecturer in Geography at Bordeaux Montaigne University